Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Labor board takes
Turtle Bay to court

Hearings begin on allegations
brought by Local 5 hotel workers

A National Labor Relations Board hearing on union allegations of unfair labor practices at Turtle Bay Resort, the only major hotel on the Oahu North Shore, continues today.

A federal administrative judge began listening to allegations yesterday morning from the labor board on behalf of Turtle Bay union members, who say their labor rights have been violated. The labor board is a government agency that mediates disputes between management and unions.

Turtle Bay union workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 5, have made more than 16 complaints to the NLRB against their employer since early 2004. The labor board investigated the allegations and the agency decided to take Turtle Bay to court, said Laura Moye, a Local 5 organizer.

"This hearing is happening because the government investigated and felt that the complaints had merit," Moye said. "We're glad to see this hearing get underway and hope to see it restore the workers right to have a full union."

An attorney representing Turtle Bay Resort called the charges frivolous and argued that they are part of a union campaign to demoralize employees and hurt the hotel, which is owned by Oaktree Capital Management of Los Angeles and managed by Texas-based Benchmark Hospitality.

"These charges represent one component in a protracted campaign of union harassment against our employees," said Dan Berkley, who is serving as counsel for Turtle Bay during the hearing.

Hotel workers accuse resort managers and owners of disciplining, suspending and terminating employees for union activity, and threatening to close the hotel. The workers also said the resort surveilled employees who were speaking to union officials, barred union agents from entering the hotel and withheld information necessary for collective bargaining.

The North Shore hotel and the union have been at odds for several years over contract negotiations. The union called for a consumer boycott of the hotel in 2003. Last month, a federal court judge rejected a request by the hotel to prevent union employees from picketing at the entrance to the property.

"Everything the union has done is for one goal: to provoke a confrontation," said Turtle Bay's general manager, Abid Butt. "We've had union agitators going table to table in the cafeteria disturbing our employees and even bothering them on the premises of their own homes."

Mark Feltman, a maintenance employee whose termination is being challenged by the labor board, said Turtle Bay's activities are hurting workers.

"For Turtle Bay, this is about getting rid of our union," Feltman said. "But their actions are affecting families and our childrens' lives."

Turtle Bay union members, who have been working without a contract since 2002, said they want pay, benefits and job protection similar to those at other Hawaii hotels.

"This is a renegade operator who refuses to offer their employees the same standards as the rest of the hotels on the island," said Eric Gill, Local 5 financial secretary-treasurer.

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